The Tale of Mother Ivey: Myths and Legend of Wild Swim Spots
Arguably one of the most beautiful beaches on the north coast of Cornwall, Mother Ivey’s Bay is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing and fishing. Sheltered by Trevose Head and the Meropes, a dramatic rock formation protruding from the headland, the waters at Mother Ivey’s are often calm and clear, even when winds and swells are sweeping through from the west. Also the home of the RNLI lifeboat station and a busy campsite, it’s unsurprising that this golden sand bay is often packed with holidaymakers in the summer, and a much loved swim spot of locals in the winter.
But, how many of these beach-goers have stopped to consider the name Mother Ivey, and question who she was?
Whilst it’s impossible to speak to someone today who has actually met Mother Ivey herself, there is an old wives tale that is commonly known amongst the Cornish folk of this area, and has been passed down through the generations…
Mother Ivey was a 16th Century white witch and healer. She used her powers to help the fisherman, farmers and those in need in Padstow and the surrounding area. Remembered as a vocal member of the community, she tried to right misunderstandings, yet wasn’t renowned for being angry. However, she did not react well to acts of unkindness.
The Cellars, a beautiful granite cottage perched at the south end of Harlyn Bay, was originally owned by a fish merchant and his family. Their lucrative livelihood consisted of salting and barreling big catches of pilchards to be sent by boat to Italy. An inscription above their door, that can still be read to this day, says, ‘Dulcis Lucri Odor’, meaning ‘Profit Smells Sweet’.
The people of Padstow and St. Merryn were starving, and when a shipment of pilchards went unsold in Italy it was returned to the Cornish shores. Mother Ivey begged the fish merchant to turn the pilchards over to his local townspeople, but he refused, and the pilchards were ploughed into the soil of one of his fields on Lower Harlyn Farm.
Devastated for her people and flying into a rage, Mother Ivey cursed the land, saying “if ever its soil was broken, death would follow”. At first the fish merchant took no notice, continuing to work the land and ship off his pilchards. However, the following year the merchant’s eldest son was riding across the land, fell from his horse and tragically died.
Fast forward 400 years to 1970, and a man using a metal detector in the field suddenly died due to a heart attack. Another couple of unexplainable incidents in the field revived the curse…
In the not too distant past, in 1997, South West Water needed to lay pipes across the land as part of their ‘Clean Sweep’ programme across north Cornwall. The Cornish can be superstitious folk, and the land owner at the time didn’t feel comfortable allowing the workmen to continue without the spell being lifted. Not willing to take any risks, officials from the water company called in a priest from St. Columb Major to bless the ‘Cursed Field’. An article in The Cornish Guardian contained a quote from a spokesperson at South West Water stating, “We have had tragedies in the past, so I didn’t take a chance. We agreed to call in a local priest and remove the curse and the landowner was then happy for us to carry out the work.”
It seems to have worked, as no more strange happenings have been recorded as taking place on the once-Cursed Field, yet it’s also worth considering that the field is still not used today, and has been left to re-wild itself. A recent tenant farmer, Mr. Bennet, was reported to have said, “I wouldn’t plough up that field, not for any money!”
The commitment that Mother Ivey had to her people was never forgotten, with Harlyn’s neighbouring beach being named after her. Originally called Polventon Bay but renamed in the 19th Century, there is something special about Mother Ivey’s Bay; it’s so sheltered, the water is often crystal clear, there are fish in abundance and many seals and seabirds call this spot their home. It’s a place where numerous happy memories are made, and that families return to year after year.
If you’d like to visit Mother Ivey’s Bay for yourself there’s parking in the National Trust car park at Trevose Head and a well maintained footpath to the beach. The beach is un-lifeguarded and there are no amenities besides an ice cream van in the car park. The postcode for the car park is PL28 8SL.